Activists in push to block sale of Israeli firearms to SFC

Sunday January 24 2021
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An SFC commando in training. Human rights activists have petitioned an Israeli court to stop the Israeli government from selling arms to SFC particularly the Galil-Ace and Tavor assault rifles (inset). PHOTO / COURTESY.

By Frederic Musisi

An Israeli court is on February 15 scheduled to start hearing the case in which human rights activists want the Israeli government, through its Defence ministry to stop selling and exporting firearms to the Special Forces Command (SFC), a semi-independent unit of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).

The activists, including a group of Ugandans in exile, through their attorney Eitay Mack, first wrote to Israeli Ministry of Defence (IMD) on December 5, 2020, urging it to revoke the security export license to supply weapons to the SFC, particularly the Galil-Ace and Tavor assault rifles manufactured by Israel Military Industries.

The activists in the petition described SFC as  “outside any legal framework in Uganda” and which has been turned into “a unit of repression”, citing numerous cases, including the 2017 raid on Parliament to neutralise dissenters of the presidential age limit ammendment.

“In these circumstances, if the defence exports to the SFC unit are not stopped without delay, the conditions of the offence of complicity and auxiliary conduct under international law and Israeli law regarding the officials in the Ministry of Defence and the Israeli defence exporters responsible for exports may be met,” the 43-paged petition reads in part.

The IMD, however, went to the District Court of Tel Aviv this week seeking  gag orders to quash the activists’ petition on grounds of “national security and foreign affairs” that should not be interfered with. 

“It will be clarified that the State of Israel does not disclose details about marketing and export licenses. This is for its clear security and political reasons. Note that the State will not be able to address in this open answer the individual allegations raised by the petitioner,” IMD’s filing, a copy seen by this newspaper, reads in part.

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IMD also argues that the petitioners neither have the grounds nor proof of the said exports arms supplied to SFC.
The activists in their petition methodically detailed curated photos of the Galil-Ace and Tavor assault rifles and other weaponry made by Israel, mostly tweeted by First Son Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who was last month elevated to command the SFC, replacing Maj Gen James Birungi, who after being proposed for American sanction-list was removed and sent to Somalia.

The activists in the petition indicated that Ugandan Defence minister Adolf Mwesige last year on October 20 met with Israel’s Ambassador to Uganda Oded Yosef to discuss updating the existing security agreement, which they want reviewed owing to “human rights situation in Uganda.”

The activists in the petition further detailed several quotes from President Museveni’s speeches over the last five years justifying use of force against civilians.

In one of the President’s texts titled “Guidelines on managing rioters, terrorists, criminals and looters and methods of arresting and handling suspects” addressed to the Chief of Defence Forces and other heads of security organs, he said: “The involvement of the SFC, Military Police and Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) in handling law and order issues has been caused by the kawukumi (bean weevils) that had invaded the Police.  Otherwise, they should not have been involved and they were never involved. I commend them because the main aims of the government were achieved: to protect the lives of Ugandans and their property.”

This, the activists say, indicates “the danger of further defence exports to the SFC unit is clear and present, especially given the severity of the situation in Uganda and the risk of further deterioration against the background of the elections.”

They further detailed several cases of tortured individuals, deaths and abductions at the hands of security agencies.
Mr Mack, however, told this newspaper that “in our opinion, it is inconceivable from the outset that the State of Israel will arm a private security force of any ruler, and this is all the truer in the case of Uganda and (President) Museveni.”
    
Government reacts 
UPDF spokesperson Brig Gen Flavia Byekwaso was not available for comment on the matter.
However, Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre, described the petitioners as “time wasters.”

“They can write to America, ICC, Israel, and whoever they want but as government we do not do things for external groups but for our people so it should be Ugandans to judge,” Mr Opondo said.
He added: “Governments world over make mistakes but do those petitioners want to say their governments do not make mistakes to be ever dwelling on ours? They went and bombed Iraq claiming there were weapons of mass destruction which were never found, then they bombed Libya but look how it is now?”

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